Whether it’s the holidays or the Fourth of July, kids – and adults, too! – get geared up for the holidays. There’s the time off from school and work – plus, in December especially, gifts, goodies and visits to look forward to. But sometimes, when it’s over, there’s also the post-holiday blues.
After so much buildup, after all, the holidays end in what feels like an instant.
And while holidays bring excitement and fun into people’s lives with those presents and family get-togethers, the adjustment afterwards can be tough. It can be a big letdown.
So how should parents react if the kids suddenly act differently when their lives go back to normal routine?
Start with understanding what the post-holiday blues are, says Jason Majchrzak, the supervising behavior analyst at Beaumont Children’s Center in Dearborn. Specifically, realize that kids are suddenly losing contact with the “rewarding” side of life – and that can be disappointing.
Here’s a closer look at how the post-holiday blues impact children, and what parents can do.
Why does it happen?
Majchrzrak says that during the holidays, kids have a really high-concentrated dose of reinforcement and rewards.
Then, it suddenly stops.
There aren’t any more presents, that favorite family member has left your house and now it’s time to go back to school; everything changes so quickly.
“Kids will experience significant change,” Majchrzrak says. “It requires an adjustment.”
Majchrzrak adds that the post-holiday blues are like depression, where kids have difficulty contacting the things they once enjoyed.
“Then you have low light of winter, the cold and being stuck in the house,” Majchrzak adds. So, for some kids, seasonal affective disorder can come into play, too.
And even kids on the autism spectrum struggle with the post-holiday blues. Majchrzak, who works in the Exceptional Families Autism Center, explains that a child with Asperger’s syndrome, for example, might have a lack of understanding of social relations and how holidays pass.
What does it look like?
“Depression can present differently in children and adults,” Majchrzak says. So it’s important to be aware of your child’s behavior, because, he explains, the symptoms are difficult to catch – and you might miss some of those warning signs.
For instance, Majchrzak says your child may show higher signs of agitation and become more easily upset once the holidays end.
“They’ll show greater sensitivity to something that was innocuous before,” Majchrzak says.
And, he adds, their daily routine will become more difficult. “They’ll be less active,” he says.
Majchrzak notes to look for signs of your little one not engaging in the things they once liked before.
If you’re not noticing any differences with activity or mood, then look at their sleep pattern.
“They could be waking up multiple times during the night,” he says.
Also, for younger kids, if toilet training wasn’t an issue before and they’re now wetting the bed, Majchrzak says that could also be a sign of post-holiday blues.
“Symptoms in younger kids are more juvenile,” he says. “There will be more distancing in older kids, like spending time alone or more time sleeping.”
And with kids with autism, Majchrzak says they’ll show signs of regression in skills they could once perform.
“Social rewards with social difficulties is hard for kids with autism,” Majchrzak adds.
What can parents do to help?
If you notice some of these signs or others, don’t hesitate to talk to a doctor or psychologist if the child is already in therapy, Majchrzak says.
“Look for significant departures in behavior,” he says.
Majchrzak notes that you can even add some vitamin D supplements or light therapy into your child’s routine, if you believe the low amount of sunlight is getting to them.
But across the board, he adds, parents need to be well-versed in reinforcement and bringing things down to normal.
“Continue to try to engage child in activities that are fun,” says Majchrzak. “They need social support and social activities.” With little ones, he adds that it’s important to not direct the play but let them decide what’s fun.
Majchrzak suggests setting aside a little time, like 20 minutes a day, after the holidays to have one-on-one time with your kids and to let them know that you’re there for them.
“Do something fun with them to help the holidays not disappear as quickly,” Majchrzak says. “If you’re having fun, chances are they are going to have fun, too.”
This post was originally published in 2018 and is updated regularly.